Israel’s Place in the Middle East

Judaism is a religion of peace. Judaism is the religion of the nation of the Jewish people. Judaism is not a universal religion but lays claim to a G-d who is universal. Israel is the modern nation-state of the Jewish people. Israel must operate within an anarchic state-based system that places “national interests” as the highest goal of a nation-state’s existence. However, peace as a religious concept cannot simply mean successful diplomacy, because diplomacy can (and has) been used as a tool of war. Between nation states, diplomacy is the only language of peace, and therefore the only tool we have to achieve peace. But peace as a Jewish religious concept goes far beyond the realm of mere “national interest”.

Within Judaism, universal peace (the total end of war as a human institution) is the final injunction before the appearance (in whatever form) of the Divine Presence as a distinct historical manifestation. Judaism demands a constant attentiveness toward the actualization of the Divine Presence into the worldly context. Therefore, Judaism demands an in-depth search for a true peace, based within actual historical reality, that moves humanity closer to the cleansing necessary to receive the Divine Presence. But it is as a nation state that Israel must operate. And it will be through the nation-state system that the total end of war as a human institution will eventually be achieved. Therefore Judaism believes in the end of international anarchy as an instrument of national self-interest and the final outcome of all diplomacy. Diplomacy in this new universal context can only mean the movement of nation states toward a system of global cooperation whereby all of humanity’s self interest becomes the first and foremost consideration.

The Sunni Arab nation states claim that Israel can have peace within the region if (and only if) it retreats to the armistice lines established in 1949. As successful diplomacy, these lines would greatly aid the Arab and Muslim world in disestablishing Israel’s security as a means of achieving its own very desirable national interest. In this hypothetical case, so-called peace would not be a necessarily long-lasting institution. But in all probability, it would be the precursor to a future war. Israel can only reject such diplomacy as anarchistic politics without substance. Iran, on the other hand, rejects any notion of peace with Israel altogether. Its policy, along with Hamas and the PLO, seeks an Israeli retreat to the 1949 lines (as a mere truce) leading to an environment of Iranian regional domination which could subjugate the Sunni Arab states, while also pressuring Israel. This would lead to a constant barrage of asymmetric warfare which would slowly weaken the Jewish state and over time cause its demise.

In this case, Iranian regional domination is not a Sunni-state national interest but works only to aid Iran and the Palestinians. Only a regional solution in everyone’s interest can conform to the test of true peace. Peace cannot mean appeasement. It must be based on an authentic reality whereby everyone’s security is assured and a long-lasting atmosphere of trust can be established. True peace (anywhere in the world) means equal security for all. But true peace has never been accomplished in the Middle East. In the long history of Islam, political warfare has always been an endemic problem. History is replete with multiple Caliphates and warring empires. In fact, the only way for Islam or any religion to achieve universal status is either through war or unforced conversion. Both methods have proven historically unsuccessful but unforced conversion would truly fall within Judaism’s definition of peace as the necessary preparation for the historical reality of the Divine Presence. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s methods within the region are distinctly outside the realm of a religion of peace. They are warlike and filled with coercion. Therefore, by the standards of true peace, these methods push the Divine Presence away and cause humanity only greater suffering. They are the opposite of Judaism which at all times seeks union with the Divine Presence.

The Jewish people had been without a state or a functioning army for over two thousand years. Jewish presence as a national sovereign within the territory of Israel/Palestine was only renewed in 1948. The Jewish people have been without any kind of national security since before the Roman empire. Jewish history in the last two millennia has been strictly a history of foreign oppression leading to its own civilizational renewal without recourse to normal statehood and/or diplomacy. This has led the Jewish nation toward a constant ethical perspective based on a spiritual reality that was separate from the commonplace dimension of everyday existence. This reality worked until it didn’t work (sometime in the 19th or 20th century). With the advent of mass European anti-Semitism, Zionism was born.

Zionism was not a rejection of Judaism. It was simply a matter of reinstituting the nation state into the reality of Jewish existence. In fact, in the post-Holocaust period, the arming of the Jewish people became an all-consuming necessity. This was (and remains) the vital imperative of the times. And it could only happen in the territory of Israel/Palestine, a land designated through a covenant with Abraham to be a land of peace among brothers. In 1948, after over two thousand years, Judaism became whole again, as Israel (the army) and the Torah (the ethical foundation of Judaism) were reunited into the sovereign history of nation states. But first and foremost, Judaism requires a firm and total commitment to its covenant of peace as the highest priority of a Divine/human, material-spiritual unity of purpose.

Israel’s place in the Middle East is to unite with its Islamic neighbors to foster a region of peace in order to do the work of the Torah on a global stage. All Muslims recognize the Torah as a true revelation of G-d, and true Muslims understand its firm commitment to a world at peace without any religious coercion. But many, many Muslims made the erroneous supposition that Zionism had nothing to do with the Jewish people. And still, many more turned their back on their Jewish brothers and sisters and went against the ancient Covenant of Abraham and chose the path of war. Like the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran, Sunni Hamas and Islamic Jihad have also chosen the path of war over the Divine injunction of peace. Once again war has been chosen in the name of Islam (meaning submission and with the same Arabic root as the word peace, Salaam). This has been the case with the vast majority of the Arab and Muslim world since 1948. It was then that the multitude of Muslim states rejected the one (and only) Jewish state. And it was the Muslim world which refused to come to the aid of their Jewish brothers and sisters during the height of the European Holocaust against the Jewish people in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The history of Judaism is far, far different than either Islam or Christianity. The Jews have been forced to become an ancient civilization without either national sovereignty or a definable land base for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Instead of politics, war, and diplomacy, the Jews have concentrated their efforts at envisioning the material criteria for a world made representative to welcome the Divine presence. The idea of a true global peace has played the prominent role in that spiritual/material quest. If the great Zionist religious thinker Abraham Isaac Kook is correct that the rebirth of Israel after over two thousand years means the beginning of an age of peace and justice, then recent history could hardly be seen as a submission to the Divine will. On the contrary, the European Holocaust destroyed Christian civilization as Europe turned its energies into a deranged quest toward victimization and genocide. While in the Islamic world, the battle against not only the Jews but also fellow Muslims has tarnished Islam with the sullied world of mere politics.

Only peace, real peace, can save all three Abrahamic religions from the tyranny of historic realities. But it is in the very core of the Abrahamic landscape, the Middle East, where peace will mean the most. Islam and Judaism will either become like two trees from the same root or they will die a slow and agonizing death amidst the ruins of two embattled ethical civilizations that have lost their way. The Jews will protect themselves surrounded as they are by a Muslim civilization hell-bent on their destruction. But Israel’s true place in the Middle East is as a peacemaker for the region and as a champion of the global downtrodden.

It is in this quest that Islam can become a permanent partner or continue as a war-mongering enemy. For when all is said and done, Islam, as a religion of peace, needs for Israel and Judaism to find its place in the Middle East. Anything less would mean the continued groveling in the ungodly world of politics, war and diplomacy as usual. For history without redemption is perpetual tyranny. This is the essence of the ethical message of Judaism. But a true union of Israel (the nation state) with Judaism (the Torah) will require a global partner (Islam). In an age of war, this has become the Divine irony. Israel’s place in the Middle East will not only save itself from a history of oppression but will also save its Muslim neighbors from the multitude of sins of its own tribal-first history. Both peoples need to find their true place in the Middle East.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).